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Last Chance for EPP to Uphold Democratic Values in Hungary Showdown

Fidesz Departure from European Parliament Group Highlights Party’s Failure to Act

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban takes part in a European People Party (EPP) summit in St Julian's, Malta, March 30, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

The decision yesterday by Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz to quit the main conservative group in the EU parliament may seem like a decisive step in the power struggle within the European People’s Party (EPP).

Yet the truth is it leaves the question of Fidesz’s future in the pan-European EPP unresolved, and underscores the failure by leading conservative parties in Europe to confront the chasm between their stated values and the near decade-long assault on democracy, rule of law, and human rights in Hungary by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz.

Fidesz has neither left nor been excluded from the EPP as a party. It is just no longer part of the EPP faction at the European Parliament, a move Fidesz made after the EPP group in the European Parliament changed its own rules making it easier for EPP lawmakers to expel a national party from its ranks.

In fact, the EPP, as a pan-European party, has done little to hold its Hungarian member to account. In March 2019, the EPP suspended Fidesz after Hungary passed a law that forced the Central European University out and because of a smear campaign against Commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Since, the EPP leadership has failed to follow through, making stated commitment to democratic values ring hollow. In the meantime, Fidesz members of the European Parliament continued to sit as EPP members.

Two years on, Orban’s government has intensified attacks against media freedom and pluralism, refused to implement EU Court’s ruling on asylum and laws curbing freedom of association, and launched new assaults against LGBT and women’s rights. This goes against the values enshrined by the EPP’s own charter. But the EPP again failed to take further action.

Many in the EPP seem unconcerned by the risk Fidesz’s authoritarianism poses to the EPP and the EU. That includes Angela Merkel’s own CDU, Germany’s largest EPP member, which maintained an approach that, too often, helped shield Fidesz from criticisms and effectively enabled Orban’s rights-abusing government to continue trampling core EU values.

With Fidesz quitting the EPP’s group at the European Parliament, it’s time for the EPP to finally get to grips with the truth – and to permanently expel it as a member because it does not uphold fundamental values the EPP is founded on.

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